FULLERTON — On Aug. 18 at the Rotary Club of Fullerton, Frank Kawase, past president, introduced special guest speaker Yoshio (Yosh) Nakamura (age 96) to share his experiences as an incarcerated teenager and a member of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
As an active high school junior, Yosh felt the negative impact of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese Imperial forces. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, under which all persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from the Pacific Coast.
Yosh described his experience being sent to the Tulare Assembly Center. His most humiliating experience was being watched by local residents while routed to the train through a phalanx of soldiers armed with fixed bayonets. From Tulare he was sent to the Gila concentration camp in Arizona and then reported for active Army duty. He was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and saw military action in France and Italy.
Yosh shared his scary experience when the 442nd was called to mount a full-scale assault climbing Mt. Folgorito to break the Gothic Line, where the Germans had fortified observation posts. In total darkness and silence, loaded with gear, they were guided by anti-fascist Italians along a path planted with German land mines. They were in contact with each other by touching the backpacks of men in front of them.
During a rest period, his buddy Tak was discovered missing. He had fallen off the trail carrying a 50-pound mortar base plate on his back. Hearing a whisper, Yosh and another crawled back and found him planted with his base plate under him. At daybreak the exhausted 442nd RCT/100th Battalion wiped out the observation posts, which allowed the troops in the Po Valley to finally advance.
The “Go For Broke” spirit enabled the men to ignore the word “impossible” and the 442nd RCT/100th Battalion became the most highly decorated unit in the history of the U.S. armed forces for its size and length of service.
After military service under the GI Bill, Yosh attended the University of Southern California and began his career as an educator, artist, community leader and activist.
During WWII, constitutional rights were suspended under the guise of military necessity. We had Japanese faces but American hearts. Yosh’s faith and hope came to pass with the passage of HR 442, an apology for the incarceration and treatment of Americans of Japanese ancestry by both houses of the U.S. Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. This made Yosh proud that a great country can admit a wrong and apologize.
On Nov. 2, 2011, Yosh with other “Go For Broke” veterans were invited to the nation’s capital and presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. What he remembered most was the politeness of the Republican and Democratic leaders to each other and their many kind words.
Yosh displayed many personal items: Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation ribbon with a gold leaf cluster, the Bronze Star Medal, the French Legion of Merit Medal, two books about WWII veterans that included Yosh, and “Go For Broke” postage stamps,
He concluded that now is a good time to let America know the sacrifices and contributions made by Japanese Americans, thus focusing positive light on all Asian Americans and all Americans.